It isn’t difficult to imagine the showdowns basketball fans could have been treated to in the Eastern Conference Finals between the stifling defense of a fully stocked Chicago Bulls team and the mighty Miami Heat machine had Rose stayed healthy. The one time we actually got to see it, Miami won in five games in a series that featured multiple nail-biters and was much closer than the 4-1 deficit indicates.
Alas, Rose has missed the vast majority of the past two seasons with various knee ailments and has seen point guards like Russell Westbrook, John Wall and Kyrie Irving join the likes of Chris Paul, Tony Parker and others on the point guard pedestal. What’s more, his Bulls team has failed to make the NBA’s final four since that ill-fated loss in 2011.
With that as a backdrop, the 2014-15 campaign is a make-or-break year for Rose for a number of reasons.
For one, he has to re-establish himself among the game’s elite given how much criticism he received sitting on the bench as the Bulls lost in the playoffs the past couple of years. Many fans probably forget to even include Rose when discussing the NBA’s best players because he has missed so much time.
Remember, we are talking about someone who won the league’s Most Valuable Player award when he was fully healthy.
He certainly looked elite in this clip SportsCenter captured:
Another reason he needs an impressive season is so the Bulls as a franchise are more comfortable building the team around him in the long-term future. The NBA is a star-driven league, and it’s difficult to see Chicago winning a title without a guy it can count on to get the critical buckets when the game is on the line.
Frankly put, the Bulls need Rose to be that guy, especially after missing out on Carmelo Anthony.
Finally, the Eastern Conference is wide open after LeBron James left the Miami Heat for the Cleveland Cavaliers. With the additions of Pau Gasol, Doug McDermott and Nikola Mirotic, the argument can be made that the Bulls are the best of the bunch.
Still, they need a guard to run the show with all of the talent in that frontcourt (Gasol, McDermott, Mirotic, Taj Gibson and Joakim Noah).
It would be irresponsible to overreact to a couple of practices and scrimmages with Team USA and declare that Rose is fully back, but all indications are that he has been impressive this summer. Syracuse coach and Team USA assistant Jim Boeheim certainly implied as much recently, via Nick Friedell of ESPN Chicago:
That's my biggest surprise coming in here. The one thing I was worried about is whether he would be able to step in after so much time [off]. He looks, to me, as good as when we had him in the world championship in '10, when he was at full strength coming [into] an MVP year. He looks very, very good. Obviously, [when] he gets in some games, it will be a little different, but it's not like he hasn't had success in games. He had a lot of success.
He's been the most impressive guy here.
Mike Krzyzewski was also very quick to praise the Bulls point guard for his aggressiveness and willingness to attack the rim. Anytime you elicit compliments from one of the game’s all-time great coaches, it is worth noting.
Perhaps the best news is that Rose hasn’t demonstrated any fear or hesitation in traffic, which is critical given how much his game is predicated on driving the lane.
Of course, any Chicago Bulls fan who has watched the squad’s best player miss the past two seasons and three postseasons probably doesn’t have to be told that cautious optimism is the way to go here. Impressive summer performances or not, the season is still months away.
However, any optimism at all is better than what we have seen recently.
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